The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra opens its new season with Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony and music by Bach. It also highlights principal violist in music by Berlioz

September 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below in a photo by Peter Rodgers), with music director John DeMain conducting, opens its 92nd season with a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

The season-opening concert also showcases the Madison Symphony Orchestra as an ensemble with no guest soloist. The MSO’s Principal Violist Chris Dozoryst (below) will solo in Hector Berlioz’sHarold in Italy.”

Also featured is Leopold Stokowski’s famous orchestral arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation will be honored with Felix Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony.

The concerts in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street, are on Friday night, Sept. 15, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m., and Sunday afternoon, Sept. 17, at 2:30 p.m.

Ticket information is below.

According to the MSO press release: “The concerts present the music of two composers who shared a deeply spiritual relationship with the Lutheran faith, and passion for music. It is said that Johann Sebastian Bach set faith to music, and Felix Mendelssohn clarified faith for all to hear.

MSO Music Director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) chose to pair Bach and Mendelssohn specifically for this program.

“Both Bach (below top) and Mendelssohn (below bottom) were devout Lutherans, Mendelssohn having converted from Judaism when he was 12 years old,” DeMain says.

“I decided to open the season with Leopold Stokowski’s great transcription of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for organ, and then give the first performance by the MSO of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, subtitled the Reformation. Indeed, this symphony quotes extensively from one of the greatest Christian hymns of all time — “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.””

Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor is a transcription for orchestra by Leopold Stokowski (below) and became well-known after its inclusion in Disney’s film Fantasia. The piece was originally cut from the theatrical release of the film, but was later added back in a 1946 re-release and included Stokowski directing the orchestra at the beginning of the piece. (You can hear the original version for organ, with an unusual graphic display, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Hector Berlioz’sHarold in Italy” is considered an autobiographical vignette recounting the composer’s Italian experience. The piece is filled with youthful vitality, tinged with an appealing Romantic sensibility that Berlioz (below)  borrowed freely from literature, most specifically Lord Byron’s poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.” Playing the solo viola part is MSO’s Principal Violist Chris Dozoryst.

The 2017–18 season will mark Christopher Dozoryst’s 10th season as principal viola with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. In addition to his orchestral duties, Chris also performs with the MSO’s HeartStrings Program as violist with the Rhapsodie Quartet. He also performs and records, working locally and regionally in Madison and Chicago. He has performed numerous engagements with well-known musicians including Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, and Smokey Robinson.

Originally commissioned in 1830 for a celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, Mendelssohn honors Martin Luther (below) in his Symphony No. 5Reformation” by including in the finale the beloved hymn Ein’ feste Burg is unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) that Luther had written while the Augsburg Confession was in session. This year marks the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses and the establishment of the Lutheran Church.

One hour before each performance, Amy Hartsough (below), acting director of music at Bethel Lutheran Church, will lead a FREE 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

For more background on the music, please read the Program Notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1718/1.Sep17.html.

The MSO recommends that concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the pre-concert talk (free for all ticket-holders).

Single Tickets are $18-$90 each and are on sale now at https://www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, go to: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $18 tickets.

More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.  

Major funding for the September concerts is provided by: the Wisconsin State Journal and Madison.com, Rosemarie and Fred Blancke, Capitol Lakes, The Gialamas Company, Inc., Marvin J. Levy, Nancy Mohs, and Peggy and Tom Pyle. Additional funding is provided by: DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C., Forte Research Systems and Nimblify, the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin, and the federal National Endowment for the Arts.

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Classical music: This Friday night is a FREE sampler concert of great German art songs based on great German poetry

September 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

There is a good reason why art songs are usually referred to by their German name ”Lieder.”

It is because the 19th century in Germany remains a Golden Age when great German Romantic composers such as Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann drew inspiration from great German Romantic poets such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (below top) and Heinrich Heine (below bottom).

You can hear a generous sampler of such works, including many well-known individual songs and a famous complete song cycle, this Friday night in a FREE concert at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

The singers are guest tenor Wesley Dunnagan (below top) and UW faculty baritone Paul Rowe (below bottom, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson).

The pianists are Benjamin Liupaogo (below top) and UW graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom), who is substituting for Martha Fischer.

The concert is also a partnership between the UW School of Music and the UW German Department. And it marks the 50th Wisconsin Workshop, a series based on the Wisconsin Idea.

For more information and background, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/faculty-recital-paul-rowe-voice-martha-fischer-piano/

If you want to prepare and check out some of the repertoire, here is the complete program:

GEDICHTE VON JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE (1749-1832)

Felix Mendelsson (1809-1847): Ich Wollt’ Meine Lieb’

Franz Schubert (1797-1828): Erster Verlust; Nähe des Geliebten; Rastlose Liebe; Musensohn; Schäfers Klagelied; An die Entfernte; Erlkönig

GEDICHTE VON HEINRICH HEINE (1797-1856)

Clara Schumann (1819-1826): Lorelei; Sie liebten sich beide; Ihr Bildnis

Franz Schubert: Ihr Bild; Das Fischermädchen

Franz Liszt (1811-1886): Lorelei

Felix Mendelssohn: Abendlied

Intermission

Robert Schumann (1810-1856): Dichterliebe, Opus 48 (1840)

Im wunderschönen Monat Mai

Aus meinen Tränen sprießen

Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne

Wenn ich in deine Augen seh

Ich will meine Seele tauchen

Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome

Ich grolle night (sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the YouTube video at bottom)

Und wüßten’s die Blumen, die kleinen

Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen

Hör’ ich das Liedchen klingen

Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen

Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen

Es leuchtet meine Liebe

Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet

Allnächtlich im Traume seh’ ich dich

Aus alten Märchen

Die alten, bösen Lieder


Classical music: What is the one piece of music you could listen to over and over and over again without getting tired or bored?

September 2, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Saturday —  time for another reader survey.

A few weeks ago, The Ear asked: Which composer or piece you really cannot stand or consider overrated, for whatever reason.

A lot of readers responded and their responses were very interesting, even unexpected. They included such composers as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Scriabin and Mahler.

It was a question of personal taste and of course was subjective – like music itself.

Here is a link to that blog post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/08/05/classical-music-which-well-known-composers-or-works-do-you-hate-and-consider-overrated/

Today, The Ear wants to know:

What piece could you listen to over and over and over again without getting tired or bored by it?

Of course, it may not have to do with the quality of the piece, but rather with how forcefully it speaks to you.

And the piece you name now may not be the one you would name next week or next month or next year.

Right now, for example, The Ear is on a kick with the Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52, by Chopin (below). He loves the work for its development and counterpoint as well as its titanic emotion, which is both Classically restrained and Romantically effusive. That’s why The Ear sees it as Chopin’s response to Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata.

The Ear has tried to play the Ballade and loves comparing different interpretations. (You can hear it played by Arthur Rubinstein in the YouTube video at the bottom. And there are a lot other versions on YouTube.)

As to your choice:

It could be larger work like a Beethoven symphony or a Rachmaninoff concerto or a Verdi opera. Or it could be smaller work, like a Schubert song or a Bach prelude or a Puccini aria.

Anyway, let us know what piece you are focused on right now. It might even serve as a recommendation to other readers.

And in the Comment section, tell us what you like about it and why, and include a YouTube link to a performance if you can.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Why do we love Chopin? Ask pianist Jeremy Denk

August 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like playing or hearing the music of Chopin (below).

Can you?

But just why the 19th-century Romantic composer has such universal appeal is hard to explain.

One of the best explanations The Ear has read came recently from pianist Jeremy Denk, whose essay on “Chopin as a cat” appeared in The New York Times.

Denk, who has performed two outstanding solo recitals in Madison, is clearly an important musical thinker as well as a great performer. You can also see that at once if you read his excellent blog “Think Denk.”

The Ear suspects the current essay grew out of some remarks that Denk gave during a lecture on Chopin’s pedaling at the UW-Madison, and will be incorporated into the book he is working on that includes his previous acclaimed essays in The New Yorker magazine.

Denk (below), who has lately been performing an intriguing survey concert that covers 600 years of music, thinks that Chopin’s uniqueness resides in how he consolidated and fused both conservative values and radical, even modern, innovations.

To the Ear, it is the best modern analysis of Chopin that he has read since the major treatment that the acclaimed pianist-musicologist Charles Rosen wrote about the Polish “poet of the piano” in his terrific book “The Romantic Generation.”

Moreover, the online web version of Denk’s essay is much more substantial and satisfying than the newspaper print edition. It has not only audio-visual performances of important Chopin works by major artists such as Arthur Rubinstein and  Krystian Zimerman, it also suggests, analyzes and praises some “old-fashioned” historical recordings of Chopin by Ignaz Friedman, Alfred Cortot and Josef Hoffmann.

Now if only Jeremy Denk would record an album of Chopin himself!

Here is a link to the Chopin essay:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/arts/music/jeremy-denk-chopin.html

Enjoy!

Please listen to the wonderful clips that Denk suggests.

Then tell us what pieces are your favorite Chopin works, big or small, and what performers are your favorite Chopin interpreters.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Which well-known composers or works can’t you stand and consider overrated?

August 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

We all have them: Composers and well-known works we just don’t like and consider highly overrated.

Composers whose musical works are deemed masterpieces by some but just don’t speak to others.

The Ear recently saw a blog post on the Internet in which a musically sophisticated British listener ranted against Johannes Brahms (below) – the epitome for so many of carefully crafted, soulful late Romanticism — and about how unlistenable and overwritten Brahms’ music is.

The Ear also knows several people who think that the music of the Classical pioneer Franz Joseph Haydn (below) is boring beyond bearable, that his music is thoroughly second-rate or forgettable – even though the great contemporary American composer John Harbison calls Haydn the most undervalued and underplayed of the great composers.

The 12-tone, serial and atonal composers – Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alan Berg – also come in for more than their fair share of dismissal.

For The Ear, one of those composers who divide the world in two – into those who love him and those who hate him – is Alexander Scriabin (below), the late Russian Romantic (1872-1915).

Oh, some of the early piano preludes and etudes are OK, largely thanks to the obvious influence of Chopin.

But even though Scriabin died young, he developed his own mature style, including the use of a mystical chord and a taste for apocalyptic and visionary frenzy .

To The Ear, those late works seem way too over-the-top and out-of-control, lacking in discernible structure and significance.

Not long ago, Wisconsin Public Radio played Scriabin’s symphonic tone poem “The Poem of Ecstasy.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Is The Ear the only person who finds it more like “The Poem of Agony”?

And then there are the late, virtuosic and pretentious piano sonatas called “White Mass” and “Black Mass” – favorites of the great Russian piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (below) who, as a child played for Scriabin.

When it comes to the Russian school, The Ear far prefers the emotion in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev and even Peter Tchaikovsky.

Well, what can you do? Such is taste.

So today, The Ear wants to know: Are there famous composers or famous works that you just can’t stand and consider highly overrated?

Leave the name and the reason you hate it so much in the COMMENT section.

Here’s hoping for some interesting and surprising responses.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Tonight is the opening of the Madison Savoyards’ production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operatic satire “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Seven performances will run through Aug. 6

July 28, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in UW Music Hall, on Bascom Hill, the Madison Savoyards will give the opening performance of their latest production of the popular operetta “H.M.S. Pinafore” by Gilbert and Sullivan (below).

The production, including two Sunday matinees at 3 p.m., will be performed on July 28, 29, 30 and August 3, 4, 5 and 6.

According to a press release, the production promises to be “visually stunning.”

Audrey Wax (below top), of Edgewood College, is the stage director, and Kyle Knox (below bottom), who studied at UW-Madison and has conducted for the Madison Opera, the University Opera and the Middleton Community Orchestra, is the music director.

The orchestra and cast are local.

SYNOPSIS

“Pinafore is the story of a lowly sailor in love with his Captain’s daughter, but she is betrothed to a wealthy officer of her own social class.

Political satire of the time (and today) permeates the story, making light-hearted fun of patriotism, party politics, and unqualified people reaching positions of power.

“Even though Pinafore premiered in 1878 skewering the “one percent” of its day, the class conflicts and romantic rivalry resonate with audiences of any generation. Rich orchestration and challenging vocal work make the music a joy to perform and to hear.” (You can hear the funny and popular song “I Am the Monarch of the Sea” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

ADDITIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

Grant funding supports the artists and underwrites the Children’s Pre-Show (1 p.m. on this Sunday, July 30, at UW Music Hall).

Children will meet members of the cast and crew, and learn about the show and its music, tour the theater, and create a show-centric craft for free.

American Sign Language service is available, by request, for the July 29 performance.

TICKETS

Tickets cost $40 for premium seats; $30 for general admission; $28 for seniors; $15 for students and young people under 18; and $5 for children 6 and under. Tickets can be purchased through UW Box Office at (608) 265-2787, www.arts.wisc.edu, or in person at the door.  Group sales of 10 or more available by telephone only. Some disocunts are available.

ABOUT MADISON SAVOYARDS LTD.

Since 1963, it has been the mission of the Madison Savoyards, Ltd. to preserve the works of Gilbert and Sullivan and other light opera by producing and promoting live performances; to develop the skills and talent of cast, crew and musicians of all ages; and to inspire, entertain, and educate the community through performances and other initiatives.

“More information can be found on our Facebook page along with behind the scenes insights to the production.”

For full information about the production and the cast, and for clips from other Savoyard productions, go to: http://madisonsavoyards.org


Classical music: Today brings the release of an impressive CD of clarinet duos and trios with UW-Madison cellist Uri Vardi and his clarinetist son Amitai Vardi

July 14, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is when another outstanding recording by UW-Madison cellist Uri Vardi gets released by Delos Records.

The recording, which features clarinet trios by Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms and clarinet-cello duos by contemporary composer Jan Radzynski, has all the makings of another winner.

For one, the repertoire is a fine mix of the late Classical style (Beethoven), the  late Romantic style (Brahms) and modernistic nationalism (Radzynski).

It is, of course, a family affair, as  you can read about here in a story about the premiere of the Concerto Duos by Radzynski:

http://news.wisc.edu/music-deepens-connection-for-father-son-performers/

The Ear also finds the playing first-rate and the sound engineering exemplary.

None of that should come as a surprise. You may recall that last year Vardi (below) and his colleague UW-Madison violin professor David Perry, along with pianist Paulina Zamora, released a recording of the three piano trios by Brahms. It was acclaimed by no less than Gramophone magazine. Here is a link to that review:

https://reader.exacteditions.com/issues/49269/page/3

The title of the new CD is Soulmates, and it seems fitting in so many ways that crisscross in many directions.

Here are notes from the educator and performer Uri Vardi:

“The title refers to friendship between composer and performer, as Jenny Kallick highlights in her liner notes.

“For his clarinet trio, Beethoven put to work the manners of a musical style that embraced the outward charm and lively sociability associated with the music of friends, interjecting his soon-to-be famous dramatic flashes only occasionally.

“Jan Radzynski (below) began his association with me in Israel, where the Vardi family from Hungary and Radzynski family from Poland first overlapped.

“Meeting once again during graduate studies at Yale School of Music, our friendship has been enriched by Jan’s project as an esteemed composer with multiple cultural ties to Poland, Israel, the US and Jewish tradition, and by my commitment as celebrated teacher and performer to collaborations across musical boundaries. Jointly, we have found ways to embrace the complexities of their origins and diaspora.

“The duo’s dedication to the entire Vardi family signals this deep connection.

“Nearly a century had passed before Brahms (below top) wrote for this same combination. Had it not been for his newly-blossomed musical friendship with clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld (below bottom, 1856-1907), a star performer in the Hofkapelle Orchestra at Saxe-Meiningen, the composer might have held to his recently announced plans to retire.

“On a more personal level, I admire composer Jan Radzynski’s music. I was moved by his gift to my son Amitai (below) — who teaches clarinet at Kent State University in Ohio — and me, and the rest of our family, of the Concert Duos. He presented the work to us in 2004, and we premiered it that same year.

“Brahms is the composer who influences me on the deepest level. Following the release of my previous CD by Delos, I was eager to record the fourth Brahms trio involving the cello, and was looking for an opportunity to add it to the other three trios.

“It is the greatest joy for me to play chamber music with my son. I was happy that both he, and my colleague and friend, pianist Arnon Erez (below), were ready to embark with me on the journey of performing and recording the three compositions on this CD.

“The UW Arts Institute awarded me the Emily Mead Baldwin Award, which helped me financially in releasing this CD. The recordings were done at the Jerusalem Music Center in Israel (which gave us their wonderful facilities free of charge).

“Sound engineer Victor Fonarov, who recorded this CD and started editing it, passed away before the completion of the work. So we decided to dedicate the album to his memory.

“Here is a promotional video, with a SoundCloud clip of the Beethoven work, for the recording:

https://delosmusic.com/recording/soulmates-cello-clarinet-piano/

“And you can hear an excerpt from Radzynski’s Duos in the YouTube video at the bottom.

“Interested readers can also purchase the album directly from Uri Vardi at: uvardi@wisc.edu”


Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society offers an clever program that mixes outstanding performances of “primitivistic” modern music with rarely heard cabaret songs

June 19, 2017
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This review is by guest contributor Kyle Johnson (below), who also took the performance photographs. As a pianist since elementary school, Kyle Johnson has devoted most of his life to music. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, he is now a doctoral candidate in piano performance at the UW-Madison, where he studies with Christopher Taylor and specializes in modern and contemporary music. He participates in many festivals and events around the U.S. and Europe. Recently, he co-founded the Madison-based ensemble Sound Out Loud, an interactive contemporary music ensemble. For more information, visit: www.kyledjohnson.weebly.com

By Kyle Johnson

If the rule of real estate is “location, location, location,” perhaps the rule for concert planning is “programming, programming, programming.”

Until the finale of Friday night’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society performance, the directors lived up to that mantra.

The first half of the program was primarily devoted to greats of the modernist chamber music repertoire: Chansons madécasses (Madagascan Songs) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and the Contrasts by Bela Bartok (1881-1945).

For the former, Emily Birsan, a Chicago-based soprano who was educated at the UW-Madison, provided a dynamic, sensuous rendition even in the score’s most economical, lithe moments.

At the end of the work, Ravel’s inclusion of piccolo (played by Stephanie Jutt) and cello harmonics (played by Jean-Michel Fonteneau at a much higher than the fingered pitch) created an evocatively primitive effect, as the songs detail life in newly colonized Madagascar

The final line of the piece, “The evening breeze rises; the moon begins to shine through the trees of the mountain. Go, and prepare the meal,” received nervous chuckles from several audience members.

(You can hear the Ravel songs performed by Christa Ludwig in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The effect was also a transition to the Contrasts (1938), a trio for clarinet, violin and piano that was commissioned by jazz great Benny Goodman. As the title aptly describes, the three-movement work cycles between jovial, intense and playful moods.

Most striking in this rendition — played by Axel Strauss on violin, Alan Kay on clarinet and Christopher Taylor on piano (below) — was the second movement, entitled “Relaxation.” Moments of hushed and moody tones created an atmosphere that historians have referred to as Bartok’s “night music.” 

The audience responded with excitement, applauding through two curtain calls, to the climactic and frenzied close of the piece.

The theme this year is “Alphabet Soup” for the 26 letters marking the BDDS’ 26th anniversary. So after intermission, BDDS directors Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sikes introduced the audience to Madison’s four-time Spelling Bee Champion, Martius Bautista).

The soon-to-be eighth-grader at Edgewood Campus School tested his spelling of a variety of musical terms like crescendo (growing louder) and sforzando (marked emphasis) while Jeffrey Sykes played the theme from Jeopardy on the keyboard. Bautista (below) was successful and, when given a paper crown, turned to place it on the head of Samantha Crownover, who is celebrating her 20th year as executive director of the BDDS.

Sykes and Birsan served the audience a collection of cabaret songs by English composer Benjamin Britten, American composer William Bolcom and Austrian-American composer Arnold Schoenberg. The only thing missing from this portion of the program was chinking wine glasses and swirling smoke.

The programming of cabaret songs with the musical “primitivism” of Ravel and Bartok was a clever idea, and one that had similar roots at a recent concert at the UW-Madison, in which the Chansons madécasses were paired with Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire (while some consider Pierrot a feat of highbrow expressionism, a strong case can be made for its cabaret nature – however grotesque and dark it may be).

Anyone weary of Arnold Schoenberg’s oftentimes deterring development of 12-tone and atonal music need only look as far as his own cabaret songs, which are as melodious and lush as music heard in the great black-and-white musicals of early film.

The programming of the final work, Johannes Brahms’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87 (1880-1882) – played by the San Francisco Trio (below) — was problematic in a number of ways.

The monolithic nature of the work – a staple of high Romanticism you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom – seemed off-putting, after the intimacy of works such as the Ravel songs, the Bartok Contrasts, and especially the cabaret numbers.

In a perfect world, Friday evening’s concert would have foregone an intermission and ended with the cabaret hodgepodge. The quirky and understated close would have certainly left the audience charmed and ever-enticed to attend the remainder of BDDS’s programs – the final weekend, of which, runs June 23-25.

For more information about the concluding BDDS weekend and its dates, times, venues, programs and performers, go to:

http://bachdancing.org


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra, with solo violinist Paran Amirinazari, closes its seventh season with rousing and intense performances of Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky

June 9, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

On Wednesday night, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) closed its seventh season with a rousing program offering three contrasting Russian works.

The opener was the Overture to Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor, as realized by Alexander Glazunov. It served to show off the orchestra’s ever-developing string band, solid in tone, if still lacking a little in warmth.

A real gem was the second work, the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev. By contrast with the composer’s first venture in that form — a taut, aggressive affair — this one is more relaxed and jovial, if no less demanding technically.

The soloist was Paran Amirinazari (below), stepping out of her usual concertmaster’s slot into the full spotlight. She handled admirably the great technical demands of her solo role, full of quirky and tricky writing.

But, amid all the spikiness she pointed up handsomely the real and almost neo-Romantic lyrical sweetness that Prokofiev infused into the showiness. (Just listen to the gorgeous second movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This is one of the truly great violin concertos, and Amirinazari — the brilliant artistic director of the fabulous Willy Street Chamber Players — demonstrated that adroitly.

The final work was a grand effort: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. This is, of course, one of those “warhorses” about which The Ear has been debating lately. It is thereby the more challenging for an orchestra to present to an audience likely to be familiar with it.

Its calculated lavishness has made it a masterpiece beloved by the public, but it is still fascinating to encounter with close listening. The composer pulled out all his tricks of dazzling orchestration and melodic invention, but in the service of a grand-scaled structure that skillfully manipulates cyclical and cross-referential transformation of themes through the score’s totality.

Maestro Steve Kurr (below) by now has nurtured remarkably solid resources for an orchestra of this kind. The potent brass choir is really well consolidated, backing fine-sounding woodwinds. Kurr made the most of these resources, in a well-rehearsed performance in which the stress on intensity of playing resulted in highly dramatic results, culminating in a truly noble ending.

This was a richly satisfying program, showcasing an ensemble of which Middleton should be button-burstingly proud.


Classical music: Con Vivo concludes its 15th season with an outstanding concert of music by Spohr, Martinu and Dvorak with guest conductor John DeMain

May 28, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photographs.

By John W. Barker

For the conclusion of its 15th season, the Con Vivo chamber music ensemble (below, in a photo by Don Sylvester) called out an unusual plethora of players.

And, as it did back in 2013, it brought back conductor John DeMain (below), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Madison Opera, to whip them into shape.

The program consisted of three very ample works.

The first was the Nonet, Op. 31, composed in 1813 by Louis Spohr (below, 1784-1859) — the first of its kind for this combination of strings and winds.

It’s in that no-longer-Classical-but-not-quite-Romantic idiom in which Beethoven was the big troublemaker. It is music of charm and imagination, altogether enjoyable as one appreciates the composer’s experimentation.

Following this was a contrasting work in the same form, the Nonet No. 2 (1959) by Bohuslav Martinu (below, 1890-1959). It dates from the last months of the composer’s life — note that, by coincidence, he died exactly a century after Spohr.

Using Spohr’s same combination of the nine instruments (below), it is a perky affair, in which Czech song and dance meet Igor Stravinsky, as it were. The second of its three movements is a particularly beautiful piece of coloristic writing. It can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The pièce-de-resistance was the final work, the Serenade, Op. 44 (1878), by Antonin Dvorak (below, 1841-1904).

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite works by one of my favorite composers. Composed for 11 players, it is really the composer’s tribute to Mozart, via a Romantic rethinking of the kind of wind serenades that Mozart wrote so wonderfully.

Thus, it is really a wind octet, with the addition of a third horn plus two string players (cello and double bass). Adding those two stringed instruments was a wonderful idea, allowing a significant enrichment of textures in the bass role.

The pool of 14 players involved in the program drew upon a lot of superlative talent active in the Madison area. Highly accomplished players individually, they join in full-bodied ensembles, given the added spirit brought by DeMain’s leadership.

While it would be unfair to single out individuals too much, I must say that I was greatly impressed by Olga Pomolova’s command of the fiendishly difficult violin parts in the two nonets, while I was also struck by the strong leadership of Laura Medisky, who played oboe in the nonets and first oboe in the serenade. (Valree Casey played second oboe in the serenade.)

The audience at First Congregational Church responded justly with an enthusiastic ovation at the end. Truly an outstanding concert!


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